Cooper, a 1982 IUP graduate with a degree in MIS and accounting, is a frequent keynote speaker and panelist at ticketing and entertainment conferences around the country. Through his company, Vertical Alliance, he developed accounting and ticketing software that is becoming the industry standard.
“When I graduated from high school, I went out on the road with the Nils Lofgren Band,” said Cooper. “I was the thirteenth guy on a twelve-man crew bus, a lowly roadie who slept in the front. One day I looked over at the other bus, which carried the band and management, and saw everybody opening their doors for this guy walking around with a silver Zero Haliburton briefcase. I said, ‘Who’s that?’ They said, ‘That’s the accountant, he takes care of the money, settles the box office every night, makes all the payouts…’ I decided right then that I wanted to go back to school, become an accountant, travel with the band, and carry a silver briefcase. I knew what I wanted: to see rock shows and get paid.”
At IUP, Cooper was student council chairman for the Activities Board and wrote for the Penn as a concert reviewer. He also took photographs. “My first gig was taking pictures of tours, and selling them back to the bands to build tour books or do album covers,” he said.
Cooper focused on accounting classes until he took a required computer course with professor Howard Tompkins. He quickly became addicted to computers.
“Why would I want to do all that math work when I could just tell the computer what to do?” he said. There were no software programs available for cash accounting at the time, but music tours were a cash-heavy business. “I started writing programs to track petty cash spent on the road by a band. With up to fifty guys, that can be quite a bit. I was able to make something extraordinarily complicated into something extraordinarily easy.” Cooper always managed to stay ahead of the industry. In the early 1980s, before personal computers were even invented, he was hauling around a Unix multiuser computer in the bay of the bus.
“Howard Tompkins made a major impression to me,” said Cooper. “Also John Shepherd, the head of the MIS department when it first opened. I was probably one of the first people through the MIS program. Those two guys are responsible for what I’m doing today. I got Shepherd tickets to rock shows. And he was the only prof that gave me a B. I asked him ‘Why? I worked my ass off for you!’ He said, ‘If I gave you an A, you’d stop working.’”
In 1995, Pearl Jam asked Cooper to devise a low-cost, high-capacity ticketing and customer service system that could give their fans equal access to tickets, without forcing them into long waits outside a ticket broker’s window. Cooper delivered, devising an electronic ticketing system that integrated the Internet, a series of call centers, and an interactive voice response system. The system worked so well that Pearl Jam’s 1995 San Francisco show sold 48,000 tickets in twenty-one minutes, and counterfeit tickets and scalping were considerably reduced.
Not long after, Cooper created a customized fan club-based ticket program for the leading ticketing company. Designed for venues, artists, and sports teams, called VAST, it allowed fan club members to buy tickets before the general public. Cooper and his team followed that by building two virtual private networks: one that let all of the company’s promoters and venues around the country use one centralized system for the workflow process of the entire operation, and the second to give their agents the same capabilities.
In 1999, Cooper used his experience in the industry to found Vertical Alliance and build Vertical Tracker, the company’s foundation product, and FanTracker, which controls ticket inventory, fulfillment, delivery, and payment. Together, the products provide a centralized ticketing engine that integrates with all management functions and applications. Information from the Web, box offices, call centers, and kiosks are centralized and can be shared throughout the organization. From there, it can be used to create fan profiles, develop personalized marketing plans and e-mail marketing campaigns, fine-tune advertising, and build online communities and fan clubs.
Cooper describes his business as more than just ticketing, stressing the band loyalty aspect. An early piece of software he wrote is a good example. Called TAMS (Tour Accounting, Management, and Scheduling), it helps content holders like artists and race car drivers reach out directly to their fans through media, radio, records, pictures, videos, or in person. “I want to allow fans to get all those things,” he said. “When the Beatles’ first anthology came out several years ago, we represented the people holding those records and shipped them to the fans. They could go on line and order the record, and it would be overnight delivered to them the first day it was available. We knew there was a desire by the fans to have a service, and we created that service.”
A self-described “tech junkie,” Cooper credits his accounting training for focusing him on using software that makes ‘cents,’ using it to save money, save time, or increase the level of customer service.
“I’ve always worked for the artists, but I’ve also tried to keep the artist understanding who the boss is, and that’s the fans,” said Cooper. “Not the publisher, not the record company, not the promoters. The fans are the ones who make the decisions. My favorite motto is ‘Turning customers into fans.’”
Cooper’s job is not only tour business management, budgets, and settlements of large rock shows. He was also site coordinator for the Live Aid and the Amnesty International tours, and started working for NASCAR a few years ago. He allows himself to go into detail on his personal website, www.foxman.com, which has an enormous number of pictures he took on his tours.
David and his wife, Lorraine
“I married my high school sweetheart when I went to IUP,” he said. “She went to Chatham. She was a fox: that’s where the website name came from. She had a heart attack in 1985 and is no longer with us. She was the center of my world. I never thought I would fall in love again until I went on a blind date in 1994 and found a gorgeous California woman who is the exact opposite of me. I’m an accountant and love everything exactly in place and perfect; she is an art and fashion and flower person who doesn’t even record what she writes checks for. The differences are what brought us together. So I’m a lucky man times two. I always make the joke, ‘It’s the best mistake I ever made, so I did it again.’”
Cooper loves his work, but he acknowledges that being on the road and traveling four to eight hundred miles a night doesn’t leave room for much else. “I’m far too responsible to have children,” he said. “You can’t do what I did and properly raise a family. I do have two Siamese cats, though.”
He could go to concerts for free, but instead often stands in line for tickets. “I built this business because I, as a patron, would support this,” he said. “The level of customer service in the ticketing area has traditionally been unacceptable, and it’s becoming something people other than me are starting to think about now. I think the rest of the world is starting to catch up to what we do.”
For an advocate of the fans, it’s a satisfying feeling.